Mc Kercher was big and bony and grey and his eyes could cut. They were
that penetrating, as everybody agreed. "Been a long time since
you came to town. Sit down and have a talk," and his glance saw
more about Joe Blount than the homesteader (1) himself could ever tell.
"How's Christmas Creek ?"
Blount settled in the chair. He said, "Why, just fine," and
laid his hands over the hat in his lap. Weather had darkened him and
work had thinned him and gravity remained like a stain on his cheeks.
He was, Mc Kercher recalled, about thirty years old and had married
a girl from a small ranch over in the Yellows. Thirty wasn't so old,
yet the country was having its way with Joe Blount. When he dropped
his head the skin around his neck formed a loose crease (2) and his
mouth had that half-severe expression which comes from too much trouble.
This was what Mc Kercher saw. This and the blue army shirt, washed and
mended until it was as thin as cotton, and the man's long hard hands
lying so loose before him.
Mc Kercher said, "A little dry over your way ?"
"Oh," said Blount, "a little. Yeah, a little bit dry."
The banker sat back and waited, and the silence ran on a long while.
Blount moved around in the chair and lifted his hand and reversed the
hat on his lap. His eyes touched Mc Kercher and passed quickly on to
the ceiling. He stirred again, not comfortable.
"Something on your mind, Joe ?"
"Why," said Blount, "Hester and I have figured it out
pretty close. It would take about three hundred dollars until next crop.
Don't see how it could be less. There'd be seed and salt for stock and
grub (3) to put in and I guess some clothes for the kids. Seems like
a lot but we can't seem to figure it any smaller."
"A loan ?" said Mc Kercher.
"Why, yes," said Blount, relieved that the explaining was
"Now let's see. You've got another year to go before you get title
to your place. So that's no security. How was your wheat (4) ?"
"Burned out. No rain over there in April."
"How much stock ?"
"Well, not much. Just two cows. I sold off last fall. The graze
was pretty skinny." He looked at Mc Kercher and said in the briefest
way, "I got nothing to cover this loan. But I'm a pretty good worker."
Mc Kercher turned his eyes toward the desk. There wasn't much to be
seen behind the cropped grey whiskers of his face. According to the
country this was why he wore them - so that a man could never tell what
he figured. But his shoulders rose and dropped and he spoke regretfully
: "There's no show for you on that ranch, Joe. Dry-farming (5)
- it won't do. All you fellows are burned out. This country never was
meant for it. It's cattle land and that's about all."
He let it go like that, and waited for the homesteader to come back
with a better argument. Only, there was no argument. Joe Blount's lips
changed a little and his hands flattened on the peak of his hat. He
said in a slow, mild voice. "Well, I can see it your way all right,"
and got up. Mc Kercher, looking straight into the man's eyes, saw an
expression there hard to define. The banker shook his head. Direct refusal
was on his tongue and it wasn't like him to postpone it, which he did.
"I'll think it over. Come back about two o'clock."
Ernest HAYCOX, A Day In Town, 1950.
(1) Homesteader : farmer owning a piece of public land for cultivation
(2) Loose crease : pli flasque.
(3) seed and salt for stock and grub : du grain, du sel pour le bétail
et de la nourriture.
(4) Wheat : blé.
(5) Dry-farming : method of growing crops in arid regions.
1 - What were the respective occupations of the following characters
JOE BLOUNT :
Mc KERCHER :
2 - Who was Hester, and what do we learn about her social background
? (2 lines)
3 - The two main characters know each other. YES or NO ?
4 - What was the purpose of Joe Blount's visit ? (Tick the appropriate
box, and justify by quoting from the text).
He wanted to buy cattle, because he had got only two cows.
||He needed to borrow money because he was facing
He was seeking a new job.
5 - The setting of the story is
(underline the right answer
and justify by quoting from the text)
a) Urban America
b) Rural America
c) Great Britain
6 - What cause (or causes) account for Blount's problems ? (Underline
one in the list, and justify your choice by quoting from the text).
FIRE - DISEASE - COLD - SHORTAGE OF RAIN WATER - HIGH RATES OF INTEREST
7 - What (or who) do the following words refer to ?
a) his ( in "his head" : 2ème paragraphe) :
b) it ( in "figure it any smaller" : fin du 3ème paragraphe)
c) for it ( in "never meant for it" : fin de l'avant-dernier
8 - Read the following lines taken from the text :
a) "His eyes could cut"
b) "There wasn't much to be seen behind the cropped grey whiskers."
c) "Direct refusal was on his tongue, and it wasn't like him to
Which features of Mc Kercher's personality do each line reveal ?
Write the correct letter (a, b, c or, nothing) in the appropriate box.
||It was impossible to know what he had in mind.
||He was used to making quick decisions.
||He knew his clients well.
||He was intimidating.
9 - a) Pick out three details in the passage showing Joe's poverty.
b) What sort of life was he leading, and how did the affect his physical
appearance ? (Give 2 examples).
10 - Find in the text the reasons why Mc Kercher was not willing to
grant Joe the money he needed. (3 lines)
Did he refuse immediately ? (Justify by quoting a sentence from
11 - Translate into French.
a) "Well, I can see it your way all right."
b) "Mc Kercher, looking straight into the man's eyes, saw an
expression there hard to define. The banker shook his head."
------------------ COMPETENCES LINGUISTIQUES
1 - Fill in the blanks with the appropriate quantifiers chosen from the
list (some of them may be used several times).
FEW, A FEW, LITTLE, A LITTLE, ENOUGH, NO, SOME, MANY, ALL, A LOT
That year, there had been too _____ rain, and far too many periods
of dry weather for Joe to get a decent crop.
Very _____ farmers earned _____ money to support their families.
Joe owned very _____ animals, and had run up quite _____ debts lately.
But, as his neighbours knew, Joe hardly ever complained. When he met
Mr Mc Kercher, he had a _____ argument, but only promised a _____ work
in exchange for _____ help.
2 - Put the verbs into the right tense or form.
Yesterday, Joe Blount (go) to see Mc Kercher.
"How long (you, have) those cows ?"
"We (have) them for over six years", Joe (answer).
"They're much too old. You'd better (sell) them, and (buy)
"That's exactly what I (do), if you (give) me the money I (need).
While Joe (talk) to Mc Kercher, his wife (cook) their meagre lunch.
Actually, there (to be) no cereals as they (not, harvest) any that
When he (come) back, she (ask) him "What (you, do) all that
3 - Bearing the context in mind, turn the following elliptic sentences
into complete sentences.
1) "A little dry over your way ?"
2) "Something on your mind, Joe ?"
3) "A loan ?"
4) "Burned out. No rain over there in April"
5) "Well, not much."
4 - Rephrase the following sentences.
1) He had married a girl from a small ranch over in the Yellows
eight years before.
He had been
2) "I'd prefer to be given the loan right now," he said.
3) "You'd better do cattle breeding ; don't grow wheat any
5 - Translate into English.
1) Il travaillait depuis des années dans ce ranch, quand
il épousa la fille du patron.
2) Vous auriez dû lui répondre tout de suite ; cela ne
sert à rien de remettre votre décision à plus tard.
3) Il se pourrait que Mc Kercher change d'avis et lui prête l'argent
dont il a besoin.